Feel Better, Live Better: Marriage is The Capacity to be Empathic, Coupled with A Willingness to be Vulnerable

Shame is such an ugly feeling. It’s sneaky and vengeful and so very confusing. It covers us and holds us down like an anchor on a big ole submarine. It’s so very powerful, it consumes us until we discover its weakness – Vulnerability and Empathy. Isn’t it bizarre that vulnerability, something we think of as a weakness, is actually so strong it conquers something as big and powerful as shame? I find that amazing!

Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly”, tells us that empathy is the cure for shame. She tells us that shame cannot survive in the presence of empathy, understanding, and validity and that the way to express true empathy is by sitting with another person in their pain letting them know – “Yeah, I get it – me too”. What I’ve found, in my experience counseling others, is that to truly feel the pain of others – their sorrow, regret, fear, anger, etc, we must connect with them on an emotional level – without shaming. We must allow others to freely express their pain without judgment. But, in order to do this, we must first connect with our own emotional pain. We can’t hide from it and we can’t be shamed by it. Through our experiences with our own emotional pain, we come to know empathy and develop a need for connectedness to others. If I allow myself to experience my own pain without shaming myself, I can then love others through their pain without shaming them – that’s empathy.

I see a lot of couples in my practice and find that couples typically come into counseling because they feel disconnected – they are having difficulty feeling their partner’s pain – empathy. Couples come into the relationship from different worlds expecting things to be easy. The truth is, marriage is hard and nobody prepared us for hard. But nobody said it was going to be easy either, we just expected it to be easy because the hormones that brought us together were very strong and made love appear easy – The Infatuation Trap. Infatuation has one thing on its mind – hook-up and procreate! The thing infatuation doesn’t consider is that we are two different individuals coming from two different worlds with different likes and dislikes. From the time we are born until the time we die we are building what William Glasser refers to as a “quality world” from a book he co-authored with his wife Carleen, “The Eight Lessons For A Happier Marriage”. The things we put into our “quality world” are the things that bring us pleasure so my quality world is filled with romantic comedies, warm fireplaces, and hot cocoa while my husband’s quality world is filled with crowded restaurants, red meat, and cold beer. So you see there could be a problem after the infatuation period begins to wind down.

I am a visual learner so I use a lot of analogies to understand complex things. I see the marriage experience as kind of like trying to see and hear one another from the far side of the table, only this table is one of those really long ones you see in the movies set back in the days of kings and queens. So I’m sitting at my end of the table and my spouse, AKA “The King” is sitting at the other end of this enormous table and he can’t hear a thing I’m saying. He’s trying to hear me but I’m too far away. As the servants begin bringing in the feast, we begin getting further and further apart – all this food is coming between us. We become engulfed in the whole process and soon find ourselves becoming bored with one another because we never really got to know one another in the first place; we were too distracted by the show. Now we’re bombarded by all the junk we brought into the marriage from our previous lives – If I don’t clear away my own junk, it begins to pile up between us like unwashed dishes and rotting food and it just keeps piling higher and higher until I can’t see or hear you way down there at the other end of the table anymore and you can’t see or hear me either. The way we keep the table cleared is by being vulnerable – we have to learn to ask for what we need, “Hey I can’t hear you. Are you still there. It’s pretty scary down here all by myself. Can you clear away some of your junk so I know you’re still there?”

Being vulnerable is probably the scariest thing we do with our partners and yet it is the single biggest contributing factor to having a blissful and happy marriage. I think marriage is practicing the capacity to be empathic coupled with a willingness to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable with your partner is much like going into the arena, not knowing what to expect – one more analogy before closing. I tell my clients that being vulnerable in your relationship is like being willing to go into the arena without your armor or your weapons – Yikes! Imagine for a moment what that would be like if you lived back in the time of kings and queens and now we’re adding “Gladiators”! The vulnerability we experience in a love relationship is like agreeing to go into the arena (meeting one another in the middle) agreeing to leave our armor at the door (totally exposed) while also agreeing to leave our weapons at the door (completely defenseless). Why would we do such a thing – Because you are worth it; because the relationship is worth it! Leaving our armor at the door is like letting our guard down, going in without our shield – agreeing to not use things like reasoning, rationalizing, deflecting, appeasing, placating, or yelling to shut things down – these are the things we use to protect ourselves during relationship conflict. We also agree to go in without our weapons – agreeing to not strike back even if we are slammed to the floor – we agree to not use things like criticizing, judging, interrogating, controlling, attacking, disapproving, or yelling to make a point. Being willing to share the things we fear the most about ourselves, knowing all the while that we may get punched in the gut yet, we agree to not punch back; we may get shot in the heart yet, we agree to not shoot back. Why would we agree to do such a thing? Because you are worth it; because the relationship is worth it! And because my greatest desire is that you feel the same way. Sue Johnson, author of “Hold Me Tight”, describes this desire to nurture one another and be truly connected with one another like two porcupines in the winter needing one another for warmth but knowing the danger of being poked with those horrid quills. I think the only way to accomplish this is Me coming to You belly-up with my vulnerabilities exposed asking you to trust that I will meet you in the middle of the arena wholeheartedly – not only with My best interest at heart but also with Your best interest at heart rather than, halfheartedly – thinking only of myself.

I can just see those little porcupines shivering with fright, holding onto one another tight, belly- to-belly, praying they make it through the night. Can’t you?

Written by Tammy Kennedy LPC

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

Feel Better, Live Better: Love is patient, Love is Kind

“I believe forgiveness frees the heart and soul of a darkness that was never

intended to live there”

What I’ve seen in therapy is nothing short of a miracle because what I’ve seen is couples giving one another grace that does not come naturally. I’ve seen couples display acts of kindness that come only with love, but not just any love, this is an act of “true” love. Amazingly, these acts of love have been exhibited in instances where the very nature of human existence instructs us not to love at all but rather to act “as if” at war with the enemy. As beings of a higher order, we are capable of many things, but is true love one of those things? Are we capable of loving those who are a threat to us – those who have hurt us to the core – those whose very actions say they are at war with us? Maybe the more important question is – Is forgiveness natural? Is this true love?

The therapeutic process allows clinicians to see people turn from hate, distain, and distrust, potentially endangering their own self-pride, self-esteem, and self-worth, and turn instead to love, respect, and altruism. People choose to love, when given the chance. We are confused when messages are mixed between convictions and behaviors. We expect others to uphold their commitments to us and we’re blind-sided when they instead hurt us with acts of disloyalty, dishonesty, and vengeance. Yet when given the chance to forgive, we forgive. I believe this is a good argument for the existence of “true” love.

I believe we are born to be in relation with one another. I believe we have an innate longing for connectedness. I believe love is a basic need for survival. I believe we choose to forgive in order to maintain our natural need to love and to be loved; we trust those who have betrayed us to avoid disconnection. I have witnessed such behavior in couple’s therapy. I have witnessed the beauty of forgiveness for infidelity, dishonesty, and disloyalty. There is no greater pleasure to a therapist than to witness such forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift some of us never experience. Forgiveness is one of the most empowering acts human beings exchange with one another yet, it is one of the most difficult to offer or accept. Why? Because at first glance, forgiveness appears to be an act of weakness. People perceive the act of forgiveness as challenging to their self-pride, self-esteem, and self-worth. Forgiveness is one of the most humble things we do as human beings because it calls us to love truly. It calls us to love emphatically, loving “as if” from the heart of the very ones who have hurt us. Not only are we to set aside the pain they have caused but we are called also to put their needs before our own? How can we do this? Only through the act of “true” love. Forgiveness may be the most selfless act we ever offer; an unwillingness to forgive, stands in the way of altruism.

We can learn from one another the power of loving with our whole-self. A love that calls us to come to the middle “wholeheartedly”, a term used by Brene` Brown in her book Daring Greatly, Gotham Books, 2012. I think loving wholeheartedly is our chance to love others considering not only what’s in the best interest of “me”, but also what’s in the best interest of “you”. When we come to the middle wholeheartedly rather than half-heartedly, we come vulnerable, willing to step outside “me” to see “you”. When I see you first, I then love you truly. I’m then loving myself enough to give myself the gift of wholehearted love, a love that is the shared interest of both me and you – it’s unselfish, fearless, and completely vulnerable. It’s trusting me enough to trust you. That’s the kind of love I want, need, and desire and I believe it is a love that can be taught. It is by sharing through acts of humility that we learn to live out our most valued attributes.

Written by Tammy Kennedy LPC

Pinnacle Counseling

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

What the Mind/Body connection teaches us about relationships?

By Terry Richardson MSW LCSW

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

PinnacleCounselingNWA.com

Feel Better Live Better- What the Mind/Body connection teaches us about relationships?

Of the most important things we need to know about life, having healthy relationships is foremost. So where do we learn this vital information? It’s easy to identify relationships that aren’t working, a short read of the newspaper, fifteen minutes of the evening news broadcast or just standing in line at the grocery store reveals the difficult and sometimes tragic results of a relationship gone wrong. So what does a healthy relationship have? From my perspective, each of us, in our mind/body existence, are given a natural example of the potentially perfect relationship.

The essential elements of all healthy relationships are balance, contrast and complementarity. Effective application of these elements give us tools to interact with family, friends and coworkers, and how we treat ourselves.

In order to illustrate the mind/body relationship think for a moment about your body as a vehicle and your mind as the driver. The next time you get into your car, consider the relationship you have established with it because of the cooperative and collaborative agreement you have with it, you accomplish your purpose of being transported from point “A” to point “B”, and whether it’s in a Lamborghini or a Ford, the results are the same. The mind/body relationship your “self” is the journey you are on and the people in your life are passengers for the trip. Are you having fun yet?

Balance

What is balance? One physical definition is “the equalization of forces.” In other works, neither the body or mind dominates or assumes complete control. If you’ve ever experienced a stuck gas pedal wildly accelerating, had to push a car you’ve failed to fuel, or the frustration of an exhaustingly long trip, and in spite of “cruise control” your hands on the wheel – literally in “co-operation.” In a healthy relationship sharing responsibility is more productive than dominance or control.

Contrast

Night and day, sweet and sour, sharp and dull, old and young. Contrast is what helps us examine and experience one thing by knowing its counterpart. Though not always an opposite, contrast is an inescapable acknowledge of the other side of the coin, the “flip side” of what is known versus the unknown. Contrast helps us get clarity about our own identity by providing a framework of reference that makes us distinct from our surroundings. A healthy relationship creates a backdrop in our experience of life so that we might more clearly define and know who we are.

Complementarity

I would be ludicrous to get behind the driver’s seat and just sit there, waiting for the trip to start. Why? It is the interaction of all of the components involved that makes the difference. Complementarity is the harmonic blending of balance and contrast into action. It is the reason that apparently impossible things can happen – the reason you can” drive” to St. Louis in 5 hours. When we focus on complementarity in our relationships, conflicts created by power struggles and insecurities created by differences, dissolve. In a healthy relationship strengths and differences are assets that make the sum greater than its parts.

In my work as a psychotherapist, I often remind couples or individuals I am working with, that most people know more about maintaining a car that a relationship. That is primarily because we too often accept relationships as a “given” part of life, whereas a car is something we work for, and need to know how to take care of. Our learning about relationships “just happens’ through observation and experience (primarily trial and error) and when we do ask for advice we generally don’t consult the experts.

The next time you find yourself unhappily stuck by the side of the road, the mind/body owner’s manual of relationships might be the first place to look.

Five things you can do for your marriage now. Number two. The three A's.

The ability to change course in the middle of a fight is a powerful relationship skill. Most people do not have it. We can be so predictable in our arguments, so petty! Talk about the three A’s when you are both calm and relaxed. Practice them. That way you’ll be ready to use them as the antidote if your talk turns poisonous.

It’ll take a little courage to use them the first time. Someone is going to feel vulnerable. Do them in sequence. It should only take a minute. You can even preface by saying Okay, this is not working. I’m going to do a triple A.

Apology
Affection
Action

Apology — Take ownership for your part of the argument. Be honest. You’re trying to change the energy of the argument. Don’t take the easy way out by saying something like I’m sorry you’re being such a jerk.

Affection — As soon as you’ve apologized for your part in the argument, move towards your spouse. Offer a hug, a kiss, or reach out in some affectionate physical way.

Action — Pledge to take some sort of action. It’s better talk about something that you will do rather than something that you won’t do. I will treat you with respect is better than I will not call you names. Either way, follow through is the most important thing.

April is Counseling Awareness Month

April is Counseling Awareness Month! Although many people know generally what counselors do, this is a time for counselors everywhere to stand together to promote the use of counseling services. We do this by reaching out to clients, readers, social media outlets, and through simple word of mouth that “We are here”. Pinnacle Counseling stands in full support of Counseling Awareness Month by showing people that we care and are here to support you. Knowing that there is a group of professionals near you, ready and willing to listen and help you through a particularly hard time or everyday struggles of life is a valuable tool. In any given situation, no matter the cause, difficulty, or time you have been dealing with the issue—we are here. Simply remember…Keep Calm and Call a Counselor!

 

Erika McCaghren

 

Sources: American Counseling Association

 

 

Five best things you can do for your marriage now. Number three. Have fun.

A successful marriage requires consistent effort. It is not something that happens to you. It is something that happens because of your efforts and the efforts of your spouse. A happy marriage is always a work in progress. But it shouldn’t feel like work all the time. You need to have fun. Together. This is non-negotiable.

Plan a vacation you could never afford to take with no intention of ever actually going. Test drive a fancy sports car. Dream big together. Fly a kite. Go to a drive in movie. Play a board game. Do something you’ve never done before. Go to a flea market and by something ridiculous. Take an exercise class. Go see a scary movie in the afternoon. Hire a babysitter to watch the kids while you lounge around the house in sweatpants. Wrestle. Play some music wearing a bear costume.

Collaborate on something fun together. You deserve it. And your marriage needs it.

Communication While in Conflict

When in the midst of conflict with a friend, family member, or loved one, inability to communicate can cause frustration, anxiety and even depression for everyone involved. Communication is essential to effectively resolving relational conflict, but how can one make sure good communication happens? Here are some questions that might help you as you attempt to communicate during conflict:

1. Are you prepared?
Chances are, during a conflict, you have some words that you want to say to the other person involved. However, in the heat of the moment, you may say things you don’t actually mean and cause more damage to the relationship. Before confronting the individual about an issue, spend time preparing what you might want to say. You may even want to write an outline, if the conflict is complicated and emotionally charged.

2. Is this the right time?
Part of the preparation process involves choosing a good time and place to communicate about the conflict. If your spouse is having a busy day at work or at home, don’t confront them as they are going into a meeting or cleaning up a massive mess made by the kids at home. If possible, agree upon a particular time or place to talk about the issue, when other tasks can be laid aside.

3. Are you focused?
As much as possible, remove all distractions that could hinder effective communication. Turn off the TV, shut the door, put your phone on silent, and focus solely on the person with whom you want to communicate. This will show that you are invested in finding a solution.

4. What is your body language saying?
Your body posture says a lot about your attitude during communication. If you want someone to know that you are listening, look at them while they’re talking, and not somewhere else. Don’t hover over the person angrily, or walk away as they are talking. Try your best to sit calmly and make eye-to-eye contact.

5. Are you using “I” statements?
Instead of saying “You make me feel ________,” say, “When you do this, I feel ________.” The latter shows that you are taking responsibility for your feelings, while still acknowledging the behavior of the other person

6. Are you making global accusations?
When trying to prove a point, it’s easy to say things like “You always ignore me!” or “You are just an irresponsible person!” Work to make more fair evaluations of the individual. You might say, “When you do _____, I feel like you are ignoring me,” or “There are times that you behave irresponsibly.” These types of statements indicate that, while at times the person may behave in ways that are hurtful, there are also times when they do not.

7. Are you showing appreciation?
Lastly, thank the listener for agreeing to speak with you about the conflict, and thank them for listening to you as you communicate. A little appreciation can go a long way in encouraging effective communication!

Kalli Hendren

Five best things you can do for your marriage now. Number four. Reverse complaining.

If you want to change the style of a relationship, start with yourself. Your actions. Intimate relationships are a 50/50 proposition. Two people. If you’ve developed a pattern of judgement and criticism in your relationship, it may be time to create a new pattern. That’s okay. You can do that. And you can start with yourself.

Catch your spouse doing something right. Notice one small thing and express genuine appreciation. You may have to observe his or her behavior quite carefully to find something worthy of praise. But it will be worth your time and effort. Find the right moment to express your appreciation. And then see what happens. Your actions may gently nudge the relationship in a more positive direction. It may be only a small nudge. You both may immediately return to old patterns of criticism and negativity.  But still, it’s some movement in the right direction. A small victory. Progress builds on progress. Small changes become big changes.

Relationships are like a Garden (part 1)

“Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds”. Quote by Gordon Hinckley
Relationships are like a garden. They need careful tending or they don’t produce the harvest. As a relationship and mental health counselor, it’s been my privilege to walk the most intimate journey of people’s lives with them. Through my learning from others, my study and education along with my personal growth through 37 years of marriage, there are 6 skills I’ve found in common with healthy relationships. In healthy relationships it’s important to:

Build confidence in your partner;
Couples that seem to grow strong find themselves purposely lifting up their partner in private and public. They say sincere compliments and act proud to be their friend. Good practice: try several times a day to surprise your spouse with a special act or word or gesture of appreciation. Begin sentences with I’m thankful for..; I appreciate it that..; I’m excited about…; I was impressed that…; The garden analogy may be the trellis. Without a trellis many plants fall over on themselves and eventually break or stop giving.

Be credible;
Secrets or lies by omission are culprits of healthy relationships. In this era of technology, it’s easy to leave spouses out of the loop and create insecurity. Healthy relationships are open about their electronics, phones, and schedules. Good practice: Ask your spouse what one or two gestures would build trust and credibility. Be proactive about honoring their requests. Garden analogy: It’s more than frustrating to think you are planting corn and instead have melons.

Please check back next week to read part two of our three part series on more ways to “grow” your relationships.
Sharon Nelson, LCSW